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5 Ways to Care for Your Attention

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Attention is the most threatened resource on the planet today. It is being misused and abused more than ever before. If you've ever juggled a phone under your chin, responding to someone on the other end while continuing to work on your computer, you're a culprit. If you ring a friend to share the latest gossip with no thought to whether they have something more important to do in that moment, you're also guilty. If you sit in a meeting pretending to listen, but worrying about all the other things on your to-do list, you're offending too. But those are minor misdemeanours these days and it seems we are all guilty of abusing our attention.

Attention is the most glorious of human gifts. It is the radar that navigates you safely through the world, but it is so much more than this. Attention is the thread that connects you with life. It can catch the mere hint of danger in the air. It can draw you in close with a loved one. It can reveal the beauty of the day. It can breath life into your hopes and dreams. It is a stream that flows constantly, and every experience, memory, belief, and emotion you have ever had, started with the kiss of attention.

Attention is a limited commodity, and when it is soaked up by the trivial, the destructive, or the irrelevant matters that tease and tempt it, little is left to cultivate and care for the things that deserve your special interest. It's easy to overlook the early signs of damage: lapses in memory, lapses in patience, and lapses in care, all indicate that attention is beginning to fragment and fray. If they go unheeded, short lapses become lengthy losses.

For most people the wake-up call is a crisis, a realization, a period of pain during which the cracks they have been deftly avoiding abruptly open into chasms, and the fall is inevitable. Suddenly you find yourself in a world where you have inadvertently given over your most precious gift to things that hold you back, hold you down, or hold you prisoner, and those things have grown stronger.

Attention is precious but most of us care for a pair of shoes better than we do this powerful resource. If you want to start investing in your attention, here are five ways you can start caring for it today:

1. Enjoy empty space.

Idle time is not wasted time. Attention needs space to rest, recover and reorient itself. When you're waiting in line, waiting for a friend, or waiting for the light to change, resist the temptation to check your messages. Idle moments allow attention to dive deep, reflect, be creative and gain insight.

2. Focus on one thing at a time.

Busy is not better. Multitasking reduces productivity and damages your brain. But it's also addictive. You might find it hard to focus on one thing at a time, but rest assured it is much more productive, enjoyable and rewarding.

3. Attend to the things that matter most.

Attention is a limited resource, and you simply can't give it to everything every day. When you are clear on who and what matters most, you can give your attention generously, and navigate successfully past the distractions that will try to steal it.

4. Exercise impulse control.

The art of paying attention is the art of wise choices. When disruptions come knocking, or thoughts intrude, see them as a chance to give your impulse control some exercise. Be the master of your attention, not a slave to its wanderings.

5. Give your attention generously.

Attention is your most precious gift, and it's the thing others crave most from you. Even if you only have a moment to give, when it's filled with your full and generous attention, a moment is enough to satisfy fully.

Attention is a tool of raw power. Learning to use it wisely, selectively, and with discipline is the skill that will carry you through a full and fulfilling life. But untamed, it will run in circles and bolt at the slightest scare. When you learn how to harness your attention, cherish it as precious, treat it with care, and use it well, you become the master of your destiny, navigating through life's twists and turns with the power to chose your path, and not be dragged defenseless into the raging seas.

This blog includes excerpts from the author's book One Moment Please.